Two weeks after the terrorist bombings that claimed 56 lives and affected countless others, London suffered another attack yesterday afternoon when a series of minor explosions disrupted the city’s transport network.
In an echo of the July 7 attack, three Tube lines and a bus were hit by relatively small detonator blasts. Thankfully only one injury has been reported, though it has since emerged that the bombs had malfunctioned, and were intended to kill; anti-terrorist officials have described this fortuitous turn of events as a “forensics bonanza”. It’s not yet known for certain whether this was a related attack or the work of copy-cats (it did occur in the middle of the day, when the transport network is at its lowest capacity) but more details should be emerging even as I write this.
On top of that there’s already plenty of commentary and opinion on these thwarted attacks. The Guardian’s security editor Richard Norton-Taylor gave his early thoughts, while a host of world leaders have spoken of their outrage at the bombings and of their solidarity with the people of London, who’ve really had to put with a lot these past couple of weeks.
Contrasting this, academic and weblogger Norman Geras has written a damning polemic (prompted in part by an opinion piece in yesterday’s Guardian, and which has been republished by The Guardian itself) attacking the apologists who supposedly make excuses for the attacks, blaming them on anyone but the actual perpetrators of the bombings. While I can agree with that sentiment in general to an extent, to ignore conditions that might, even in the slightest, be conducive to breeding such acts of wanton destruction and murder is just as dangerous.
As far as apologism goes, I have a story to tell. A couple of years ago I remember getting into an argument with someone over IM about Nestl�’s presence in Africa. Basically, this person was trying to rope me into supporting a particular anti-globalisation protest, the message of which can be summed up in three words: ‘Nestl� Kills Babies’. Though I’m no expert on this subject and if I’m wrong about the facts feel free to correct me, it’s pretty well-known that Nestl� had (if it hasn’t still) a policy whereby it heavily advertised its powdered milk formula products to new mothers in many African countries, often with posters and sales reps right outside the hospital, probably in an effort to sell off overstock from Western markets (where breastfeeding was/is becoming more popular). Aside from the health implications of using powdered milk over natural breast milk, the root of the problem here was the contaminated water supply used by the mothers to mix the baby formula. Obviously, if you use poisoned water, the milk will be poison too, and the result was a tangible link between the use of baby formula and the infant mortality rate. The logic seems pretty clear: Nestl� makes formula, formula used to make milk, babies drink milk, babies die — therefore Nestl� kills babies.
But it’s never as simple as that, and I refused to demonise Nestl� exclusively. I put to this person that, hypothetically, if Nestl� were to withdraw from Africa and halt its undoubtedly morally-dubious powdered milk marketing, would babies stop dying? Most likely they wouldn’t — because the poison is in the water, not the milk formula. Take away the powder, and the water is still contaminated. And why is the poison in the water? Well, there’s any number of factors, but most of them point to Western exploitation of Africa as a whole: the West has allowed African dictators to destroy their countries; allowed callous multinationals like Shell to rape their environment; and exploited their ecomonic and societal weaknesses for capitalist gain. Of course Nestl� knew that their powdered milk would be mixed with contaminated water so they are culpable, and I never denied that — but to label them baby killers and not accuse any one else in the chain of culpability of the same is narrow-minded at best, and at worst lets the killing go on unperturbed. And for that, I was branded an apologist for Nestl�? Incredible.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, it’s stupid and weak-minded to absolve the terrorists who committed these atrocities, and anyone doing so should be ashamed of themselves, but highlighting the conditions that may have lead to their extremism taking hold so strongly is not making excuses for their actions. In my own opinion it’s very likely these bombers would have attacked London anyway, just for being London — after all, the United States did little if anything to deliberately provoke al-Qaeda and its supporters until after September 11. However, it would be irresponsible of us not to ask why the extremist position is apparently becoming so popular among young Muslims, in Pakistan or the UK or anywhere else. A ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ policy (for that is what preemptive action is, in essence) only makes us — the West — as bad as the terrorists we want to see defeated.
“They hate us,” the hawks and warmongers cry. Which is true, but they hate us for a reason. That reason might turn out to be no reason at all, yet it’s still our moral duty to find it. Hopefully those responsible for yesterday’s attacks will be found and brought to justice — and what we learn from them will shed a little light so we no longer have to stumble blindly in the dark.
Update: Man shot dead at Tube station. So much for my ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ point…
You were reading Not Again, a Macrolog entry by MacDara Conroy. It is filed under Comment, and was published in July 2005. If you liked what you read here, you can follow this site on Twitter @mcrlg or via reader feed, and find many more entries in the Archives.